Tulsa County commissioners voted 3-0 today to build the county’s new juvenile justice center and family court on the 7.5-acre Storey Wrecker Service property at 10 N. Elwood Ave.
The property is just northwest of the BOK Center and just south of the Tulsa Jail.
The county will pay approximately $5.6 million for the land. Five years ago, the county agreed to purchase the property for $2.5 million but backed out of the deal over concerns about hazard mitigation.
The new facility is expected to cost about $45 million. It will replace the Tulsa County Juvenile Center at 315 S. Gilcrease Museum Road.
Work on the project is expected to begin in April 2017 and be completed in October 2018.
Monday’s vote came at the end of a long county commission meeting in which about 10 people urged commissioners to postpone their decision and reconsider a 57-acre site just east of the Osage Casino on 36th Street North at the end of the L.L. Tisdale Parkway. Roughly the same number of people came out to oppose the site.
The public support for the project followed months of criticism of the project from north Tulsa residents and area leaders. Keith said after the vote that while she appreciated the words of support for the north Tulsa site, it was time to move on.
If any north Tulsa elected officials has supported the project, then perhaps the vote could have been postponed, she said.
“They’re not,” Keith said. “We’re done. We just have to be done.”
Keith acknowledged that the market price for the property has increased significantly since 2011. In part, Keith said, that is because Storey Wrecker needs to make more money off the sale of the property so it can afford to move to a new location.
Commissioner John Smaligo represents the north Tulsa neighborhood where the 57-acre lot is located. He said he would have preferred to see the juvenile justice center built there but has no qualms with the Storey Wrecker site.
“It’s a terrific site,” he said.
However, the proposed development on 36th Street North would have include commercial opportunities as well as a juvenile detention center, Smaligo noted.
“The opportunity for a much-needed multimillion dollar county operation to be put there, moving good jobs in the area … (would) anchor a higher density development in the area,” Smaligo said. “I believe in that message.”
Harold Roberts with the development firm Fast Casual in Oklahoma City told commissioners his company was ready to develop on the north Tulsa site should they decide to build the juvenile justice center there.
The company has built SmashBurgers, Genghis Grills and other restaurants and commercial developments in other markets, Roberts said.
He noted after the meeting that the juvenile justice center would take up only 20 acres of the development site, leaving more than 30 acres for commercial development.
“If the county and the city would bring in all the infrastructrue to the 30-something other acres of this property, it’s a no-brainer for us to invest,” Roberts said.
The new juvenile justice center will have enough space to consolidate all Tulsa County Juvenile Court facilities in one location. The building will include at least six courtrooms, a 55-bed detention center and office space for nearly a dozen law enforcement and social service agencies. The 158,000-square-foot structure will also be home to the Community Intervention Center.
Monday’s vote comes more than two years after Tulsa County residents approved a 15-year, 0.041 percent sales tax to purchase property and build a new juvenile justice center.
Since then, county officials — led by Commissioner Karen Keith — have been searching for the right location. The county considered using the Laura Dester Children’s Center, 7318 E. Pine St., and had a strong interest in a 57-acre property just east of the Osage Casino on 36th Street North at the end of the L.L. Tisdale Parkway. Neither site panned out.
The proposed north Tulsa property was strongly opposed by some residents in the area, prompting the county to look elsewhere.
County commissioners were just days away from closing on the Storey Wrecker site in 2011 when they voted to not go through with the purchase. That decision was made after the seller failed to enroll the property in a Brownfields remediation program as stipulated in the contract of sale.
The county commissioners in 2011 were Keith, Fred Perry and John Smaligo.
Brownfield remediation refers to removing contaminants, pollution and hazardous wastes from a property before it can be used. The Storey Wrecker site was once home to a manufacturing facility and will require remediation work, county officials say. However, that work is not expected to delay the construction of the new facility.
Keith said the remediation issues can be addressed by rearranging the footprint of the project to ensure that no construction is done above on ground that could potentially contain hazardous materials.
“The environmental issues are something we can absolutely deal with,” Keith said. “We are very confident of that.”
County officials were trying to get a new juvenile justice center built as far back as 2002. A study conducted that year by the National Center for Juvenile Justice called for building a 223,000-square-foot family court facility.
The juvenile justice center sales tax has raised $8,060,786 since it took effect in July 2014, according to the county Fiscal Office. In addition, the county has issued $38 million in bonds to raise revenue for the project.
The county has approximately $45 million on hand to spend on the project after taking into account money spent on debt service and preliminary design work, county officials said.
For decades, officials have complained about the size and condition of the Juvenile Bureau. Closets and hallways have been turned into offices, as was the atrium that once occupied the center of the building.
About 6,000 young people a year pass through the cramped, run-down facility.
Built in the late 1960s and renovated in 1995, the Juvenile Bureau consists of two structures totaling about 46,000 square feet, including a 55-bed detention center.
Although commonly known as the Juvenile Bureau, the facility is also home to the Tulsa County District Court Juvenile Division.
The court handles juvenile offender, adoption and child-custody cases as well as other legal matters pertaining to juveniles and their families. The Juvenile Bureau provides state-mandated services to those juveniles and their families, such as public defenders, social workers and probation officers, to name a few.
One of the many problems with the existing Juvenile Bureau is that it does not have adequate room for the Juvenile Court. The courtrooms are so small, only one judge a week can hold jury trials.
Youthful offender trials cannot be heard at the Juvenile Bureau because no courtroom is large enough to seat a jury of 12.
Tulsa County District Court Judge Doris Fransein, chief judge of the court’s Juvenile Division, said the county is in desperate need of a new juvenile justice facility.
“The condition of our current place has gotten to the point where it is virtually impossible to conduct court,” she said.
Rob Nigh, Tulsa County’s chief public defender, said the most important thing the court system does is deal with children in crisis.
The Public Defender’s Office works with about 2,000 young people a year, most of whom are deprived and neglected and not accused of any wrongdoing, Nigh said.
“The facility we’re in now is archaic, outdated and claustrophobic,” Nigh said. “It makes the child involved in the justice system believe they are secondary to the needs of others, when they ought to be our highest priority.”